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Our Dutch Legacy, Four Hundred Years Later

On May 4th, 1626, Dutch Explorer Peter Minuit landed on the island known to its indigenous population as Manahatta, orchestrating what has often been referred to as the “purchase” of the island for the Dutch (the indigenous people of course had no concept of land “ownership,” and likely saw the gifts as a token of friendship — one which later actions by the colonists likely seemed to starkly contradict). As a result, the Dutch would soon regard this Island as their own, under a new name, New Amsterdam. While today physical manifestations of the very long Lenape history of Manhattan are few and far between, the relatively brief Dutch rule (1626-1664) and presence on the island left a lasting imprint in street names, building typologies, and direct connections to Dutch governors, all of which can be seen in our neighborhoods.

Purchase of the Island of Manhattan, Peter Minuit 1626. Courtesy of NYPL.

The Dutch had been on this Island for some 17 years by the time of Minuit’s arrival, since Henry Hudson first encountered the island in service of the Dutch in 1609, working and living alongside the Lenape. The Lenape taught the settlers about living here, navigating the landscape, surviving the frigid winters and blistering summers, and planting crops. However, the relationship between the Dutch and the Lenape soured once Minuit “purchased” the Island of Manahatta under the sacred Oak tree at the foot of the Mohican Trail. On June 6, 1626, another ship arrived mere weeks after Minuit’s arrival. This one carried eleven enslaved people who were ordered to construct a fort at the foot of the Mohican Trail. The Lenape were removed first from lower Manhattan; then, as the dutch settlements began to grow, the Lenape were pushed out of what we regard today as Greenwich Village, the East Village, and surrounding neighborhoods.

Land prior to the construction of Washington Square Park, 1807 Bridges Map of New York City (1871 reissue), courtesy of WikiCommons.

Dutch New Amsterdam governor William Kieft waged one of the bloodiest wars against the indigenous population in New York, known as Kieft’s War (1643-1645). Following this, Peter Stuyvesant became the last Dutch colonial Governor, and is probably the most well-known of the governors, with the most lasting imprint upon our neighborhoods today. On the map above, you can see the land owned by Peter Stuyvesant; though the land was sold off, the effects of the Dutch Colonial Governor ran deep. Visible is Governor Street, Peter Street, and Stuyvesant Street (north to south) today; only Stuyvesant Street remains. At 21 Stuyvesant Street, you can find the Stuyvesant Fish’s house, built by a direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant.

The Petersfield (Fish Building), 2021, Village Preservation

Another building in our neighborhood that directly connects to Peter Stuyvesant is 113-119 Fourth Avenue, also a part of Stuyvesant’s expansive Bowerie. This building known as The Petersfield was once called the Fish Building. The building received its name because of the man who built it was Stuyvesant Fish, the great-grandson of the colonial Governor-Director Peter Stuyvesant of the Dutch East India Company, and grandson of the man who built 21 Stuyvesant Street. 

77 and 75 1/2 Bedford Street seen in the 1969 designation photo (Greenwich Village Historic District and courtesy of the LPC)

Buildings in the East Village not only have a direct connection to the Dutch history of the island, but are also clearly influenced by Dutch Architecture. The public school at No. 324 East 5th Street was designed by the noted school architect C. B. J. Snyder in 1893 in a Dutch Colonial style. The building features a square plan and a pitched roof with Dutch gables. You can find even more direct Dutch influence on architectural design in Greenwich Village. No. 75 ½ Bedford Street, called by the Landmarks Preservation Commission the city’s narrowest townhouse at just 9.5 feet wide, was constructed in 1873. This building also features a steeped gabled roof; combined with its narrow size, it evokes a distinctly Dutch feeling. 

The churchyard and cemetery of St. Mark’s, 1852 (Dripps 1852)

Many more dutch influences and connections can be seen in our neighborhoods, such as St. Mark’s Church, which stands on the site of the Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant’s Chapel (there is also a statue of him at the gate). No. 302-304 East 3rd Street is an old law tenement built by the descendant of some of the earliest Dutch settlers of New York. And the 1892 Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, recently devastated by a fire. shows its deep Dutch roots.

There’s even more Dutch heritage of our neighborhoods you can explore on our website. The Roosevelts were descended from early Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam; take our Roosevelt Tour on our South of Union Square Map. The same map also has an extensive Stuyvesant Tour showing the impact and legacy of the last Dutch governor and his descendants on that area. And finally, on our Landmarks and Historic Districts Designation Reports webpage, you’ll find the designation reports for the St. Marks Historic District, the Stuyvesant Fish House at 21 Stuyvesant Street, and St. Marks-in-the-Bowery Church, all of which have connections to our Dutch heritage.

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